Monday, March 30, 2009

Review: Peter Doherty - Grace/Wastelands (* * * *)

Everybody grows up eventually, even self-destructive British rockstars. Peter Doherty, known as much for his constant battle with addiction as his work with The Libertines and spin-off Babyshambles, is beating the average 'wake up' age by a good margin. Just about in time for this 30th birthday, Doherty has released his debut solo album, entitled Grace/Wastelands, which he claims is one of the most frightening things he's ever done. Sobering up and mellowing out, Doherty worked with Blur frontman Graham Coxon to create a relaxed pop vibe for his latest offering.

The feel of Grace/Wastelands is unlike anything Doherty has been associate with before, with a style hovering between rambling folk-rock and dark, noirish pop. Opener "Arcady," shuffles along amiably on finger-picked guitar, while "Last of the English Roses" picks things up a bit with more percussion and some horns to back Doherty's quaint narrative. Both tunes have a warm, pleasant sound that Doherty continues on songs like the classic pop track "Sweet By and By" and the breezy "Sheepskin Tearaway." Other songs, like the string-heavy tunes "1939" and "A Little Death Around the Eyes," have a haunting, almost sinister edge to them, creating a dark pop moments beautifully produced and emotionally delivered. It's clear Doherty is still wrestling his demons, but this new approach feels both refreshingly mature and fascinatingly complex.

Some of the songs, especially during the middle of the album, tend to blend too smoothly with each other and the record can feel a bit slow if you're not paying attention. Fortunately, with enough moments like the simple, but effective "I'm the Rain" and the grittier penultimate track, "New Love Grows On Trees," Doherty proves himself to be a generally strong songwriter even if some of the material doesn't captivate so completely. Closer "Lady Don't Fall Backwards" feels like the perfect summation of the purpose of the record, a melancholy and broken, but hopeful song that ends with the softly sung line "come on and fall into my arms."

Doherty may not want to write of rock 'n' roll for good, but this detour ends up being much more enjoyable than some of his latest work and gives us reason to believe that he has plenty of great music left to offer.


karlkarlkarl said...

good review keep up good work